FriendFeed kill Twitter? Not going to happen

So Duncan Riley — formerly of TechCrunch — has a post up at his new site Inquisitr about how it’s time for FriendFeed to kill Twitter. I have nothing against Duncan, but every time I see a headline like that on a blog post I almost instinctively discount whatever appears in the post. Why? Because those kinds of “X is going to kill X” headlines are almost always Techmeme bait or Digg bait. It’s like those headlines in the business section of the newspaper that talk about the stock market “plummeting” or companies “hemorrhaging” red ink. Hyperbole sells.

The probability of FriendFeed “killing” Twitter is roughly zero. And not just because FriendFeed doesn’t have the scale yet to mount an assault. The two services are also a lot more complimentary than they are competitive, as more than one person commenting on this topic (many of them on FriendFeed) has mentioned. FriendFeed is an aggregator, and Twitter is not. Could FriendFeed add messaging? Sure it could. But it still wouldn’t kill Twitter. Lots of people thought that Twitter would help to kill Facebook (or vice versa), and Facebook was supposed to kill MySpace, and MySpace was allegedly going to kill blogs. And so on.

Obviously, some services thrive and others don’t — Friendster being a good example (although even it has come back from the dead to some extent). But that’s rarely because some other service “kills” them. It’s usually because they fail to keep up with what their customers want, or fail to adapt to some new technology, or run out of money. Twitter’s biggest problem isn’t FriendFeed, it’s keeping the service running properly so that people don’t get irritated enough by all the downtime and stop using it. And even that is a pretty high hurdle: for all the bitching about Twitter being down, it still seems to be pretty popular. And FriendFeed has its own issues to worry about, some would argue.


For bonus points (or maybe the booby prize), check out another of Steve Gillmor’s classic, incomprehensible rants on the topic over at TechCrunch.

Books: The next file-sharing frontier

So Microsoft is winding down its book digitization and search project (and its related academic research project) because it wants to focus on verticals that have a “high commercial intent.” In other words, there’s no money in book scanning. That presumably leaves Google to scan and index all of the world’s knowledge — and to fight the forces of copyright who believe the company’s project is in defiance of the laws covering fair use. Google doesn’t appear to mind (or at least not yet) that book scanning doesn’t produce any revenue. Farhad Manjoo at Salon says this is a classic example of Microsoft’s failure of imagination.

Speaking of imagination, it doesn’t take all that much to see that books are only a few steps away from joining music and movies (and software) as freely pirated content. E-books are already available, of course, but there aren’t that many of them yet — in part because there aren’t that many people using e-book readers. The Kindle could change that, however, as well as new readers that are coming with e-ink displays and low power requirements. But it was a comment on the TechCrunch post about Microsoft’s decision that got me thinking.

The comment mentioned a company called, which makes a relatively cheap version of a book scanning machine. It costs $1,600 — and that doesn’t include the cameras — but that’s orders of magnitude cheaper than the kinds of machines Microsoft uses, which cost as much as $100,000 each. And then I thought about how much university students like my daughter pay for the textbooks they use in school each year, which can cost upwards of $100 per book for something they may only use a few pages of for a particular class.

I think if I were an enterprising — and not especially law-abiding — student at a university, I might just buy a couple of those Atiz machines and a few cheap digital cameras, and start scanning textbooks as fast as I possibly could. Build up a large enough respository of texts and you could start selling them page by page to students, or just let them swap the files on a p2p network. It would be illegal, of course — but no more or less illegal than Napster. And if a student only used excerpts from the books, the principle of fair use might still apply. Not that I’m suggesting anyone do such a thing, of course.


Speaking of giving books away for free, author Steven Poole did just that with a recent novel he wrote, but says he wasn’t at all impressed with the results. His experience prompted New York Times writer David Pogue to write about his own experiences with book piracy. But as usual, Techdirt writer Mike Masnick (who was kind enough to come and do a presentation at mesh 2008 this week on “the economics of abundance”) takes the argument used by both men apart piece by piece.

Twitter: A community or a utility?

I’ve been kind of out of the loop thanks to the mesh 2008 conference, so I’ve missed the furore over Ariel Waldman and her attempts to get Twitter to ban a user that she says has been harassing her. According to her account of the situation on her blog, she tried repeatedly to get Twitter to enforce its own terms of service, which state that users “must not abuse, harass, threaten, impersonate or intimidate other Twitter users.” She emailed back and forth with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, but he said that the company couldn’t do anything because they were afraid of a lawsuit, and that they were going to review their terms of service, which Jack said were “open to interpretation.”

To complicate matters somewhat, Waldman — who describes herself as a “social media insights consultant” and blogs about art, sex, entertainment and technology at the blog Shake Well Before Use — also happens to be the community manager at Pownce, which could be seen as a direct competitor for Twitter. But she says in an update to her blog that the harassing behaviour and the complaints to Twitter came before she got her current job at Pownce. And in a bizarre twist, a commenter who claims to be Waldman’s mother says that the individual harassing her has been doing so for several years and is mentally unstable.

Waldman eventually started a thread at the customer-service site GetSatisfaction, and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone responded in a comment. Among other things, he said that the account in question had been removed voluntarily by the user in March, and that in any case the activity didn’t breach the terms of service. But the most interesting thing he said was that as far as Twitter was concerned (as pointed out GetSatisfaction thread), the service is “a communication utility, not a mediator of content.” In other words, Twitter wants to be treated the same as a “common carrier” such as a telephone company, which isn’t liable for the content it carries.

This is an understandable point of view to take from a legal standpoint, especially given U.S. laws such as the Communications Decency Act. But does it jibe with the way people treat Twitter? Many people seem to see it as a community. And other online services such as Flickr (as Waldman notes) remove content or ban users behaviour. Why not Twitter? Waldman may be over-reacting to the messages that were posted about her — there’s no way of knowing. And there is an argument to be made that she should just take her lumps and move on; block the user and ignore it. But at the same time, Twitter does seem to be weaseling out of its own terms of service, and that hardly seems kosher.


As Shelley notes in a comment, Ev Williams of Twitter has responded in a comment on Jeffrey Zeldman’s blog, in which he says that Ariel submitted a total of 13 messages and only one contained her name — making it highly unlikely that anyone would have been able to figure out that the other messages were about her (if they were about her at all). He also denies that the company has any fears about a lawsuit. In any case, he says Twitter doesn’t “have a rule against insulting people or hurting their feelings,” and that “We had to make a judgement call here, as one does in all such cases. This didn’t meet the bar for being banned, in our opinion.” If those facts are correct, I would have to agree.

Looking back at mesh 2008

Much like its two predecessors, the mesh conference this year was just a huge amount of fun — I can only hope that the people who attended and meshed along with us had as good a time as I did. From the keynote I did with Ethan Kaplan from, the VP of technology at Warner Brothers, and the one that my colleague Stuart MacDonald did with Lane Merrifield of (who seemed like just a terrifically down-to-earth guy — very Canadian) to the panels and workshops, and of course the great social events, it was as good a time as I can remember having at any conference. For me, the mark of a good conference is always the people you meet and the ideas you share, and hopefully we enabled a lot of that.

Some highlights for me personally included the design presentation at meshU by Daniel Burka of Digg and Pownce, who is just a super-nice guy (also very Canadian), and the ones by Ryan Carson — complete with his trademark hat — and Kevin Hale of As for mesh proper, the music panel was one of my favourites, in part because I programmed it; but also because David Gratton was such an excellent moderator, and because the mix of people of the panel was so good, with David Usher, CRIA head Graham Henderson and Kieran Roy of the indie label Arts & Crafts (CBC has an interview with David Usher).

The presentation by Mike Masnick of on “the economics of abundance” was also a personal favourite, and a whole bunch of people came up to tell me the same thing. Mike is extremely good at explaining difficult economic concepts as they apply to digital media and business models, and I could tell people in the panel room were getting a lot out of it — and I think 322 slides in 30 minutes is a new record. And of course, all the social meshing in the concourse was a big part of the conference for me, and hopefully for others, as well as the great parties put on by Maggie Fox and the Social Media Group and by Edelman, our PR partners for mesh 2008.

If you want to try and track some of what went on at mesh, here are some places to look:

— mDialog has video highlights of many of the keynotes and panels, and the videos are also available on iTunes as well (thanks to Greg Philpott and his team, and to the excellent Mark McKay).

— Flickr has some photos from mesh and from the mesh party at the Rockwood, hosted by SMG (thanks to Rannie “Photojunkie” Turingan and Arieh Singer)

— David Janes’ Onaswarm has a roundup of Twitter posts, Flickr photos and more.

— Nora Young of CBC’s Spark has posted video of her chat with Bill Buxton, which will be broadcast as part of next week’s show

— My former Globe colleague Peter Nowak has an interview with David Usher.

— Michael Geist has uploaded his excellent slide presentation on digital advocacy

— Daniel Burka of Digg and Pownce has uploaded his meshU presentation to Slideshare.

— Sam Ladner, who did the Reputation Management workshop, has uploaded her slide deck.

— Amber MacArthur has put up a YouTube video of her presentation on video

Jonathan Keebler and Guinevere Orvis (who was also on the video panel, and was an excellent choice) live-blogged most of the conference using ScribbleLive, which was featured in a TechCrunch article written by Erick Schonfeld, who attended mesh08 (and is a really nice guy).

— Mark Blevis live-blogged many of the sessions, as did Dave Fleet and Connie Crosby, and music-panel moderator David Gratton.

— Nav from Scrawled in Wax wrote about a couple of sessions, as did Colin Carmichael and mesh regular (or irregular), the excellent Michael O’Connor Clarke.

— Marketing magazine has a story about mesh 2008, as does The Industry Standard

and for bonus points:

— Mike Masnick writes about how Warner Brothers should move Ethan Kaplan out of the technology side of the label and into the business side.

— My Globe colleague Matt Hartley worked his tail off at mesh and wrote several excellent stories (and I say that as a completely unbiased observer :-): one about StumbleUpon, one about Michael Geist and online advocacy, one about online brand-building and one about online video.

— Alec Saunders of Iotum gets into a back-and-forth with moderator Rachel Sklar from Huffington Post about the privacy panel at mesh 08.

— Ross McKegney has some thoughts about meshU.

— Jon Lax of Teehan Lax posted his presentation from meshU.

— Mark Kuznicki and Sean Howard have posted their Government 2.0 presentation from meshU on Slideshare.

— Wayne Macphail from has posted video of six sessions at mesh, including the keynote by Michael Geist, the keynote by Lane Merrifield of Club Penguin, the “Video is Everywhere” panel, the “New Front Page” panel, the “Cultivating Community” panel and Mike Masnick’s presentation on “the Economics of Abundance.” Just click the “On Demand” button on the Rabbletv player.

— Reg Braithwaite has posted slides from his Building and Managing Great Software Teams presentation from meshU on Flickr.

— Alistair Croll has posted his slides from his Watching the Web presentation at meshU at the Bitcurrent site.

— more at the Tucows blog, as well as from Glen Farrelly and from Doug Walker, and some thoughts on meshU at StartupNorth.

— Rahaf Harfoush also live-blogged a couple of the marketing panels.

— Zoe Siskos of Social Media Group made a video and has posted it.

— Stan Sutter of Infopresse has a post up about several of the panels and keynotes.

— Kevin Restivo has posted some thoughts about mesh08.

— Rob Hyndman did an interview with CFRA and has posted the audio.

— Kathryn Lagden has a post up about the conversation between Nora Young of CBC’s Spark and researcher Bill Buxton.

If you have any other links to mesh-related stuff — or thoughts about it — please post a comment. There are also meshU and mesh feedback forms you can use to give us your take on either of the two events.

mesh 2008 day one: rocked

Have to get some sleep soon, since I feel like I’ve been up for about 18 hours straight, but I had to mention how great the first day of mesh 2008 felt. Obviously I’m biased, being one of the organizers, but I really think the keynotes were pretty fantastic — even if we did have to get Michael Geist to sub in for the missing Matt Mason. Ethan Kaplan is one of the most interesting and thoughtful people when it comes to the future of music, and I could have easily continued talking with him about it long after the keynote was over. And David Gratton of Project Opus continued some of the discussion about those issues on his panel in the afternoon with musician David Usher, Kieran Roy from the indie label Arts & Crafts and Graham Henderson from the Canadian Recording Industry Association, who was actually a pretty good sport about being made out as the bad guy all the time.

The music panel really seemed to get people fired up — we had a huge amount of great questions and interaction from the audience, which to me is one of the hallmarks of a great mesh panel. And we had some great feedback on a bunch of the other panels as well, including the Private vs. Public one with my friend Mark Kingwell from U of T, Internet researcher Nancy Baym from the University of Kansas and Ken Anderson from the Ontario Privacy Commission. Add on top of that some great workshops from the always excellent Amber Macarthur and Mark Kuznicki and it was a pretty awesome day — followed by drinks in the MaRS atrium and a great party at The Rockwood. And now, to sleep.

If you want to read up on some of what people have been saying about mesh, check out the aggregator page that David Janes has set up at Onaswarm, or see the live-blog that David Fleet did with CoverItLive (David Gratton live-blogged the Ethan Kaplan keynote as well, and Nav also had some thoughts about Ethan’s keynote), Or you can do a Tweetscan for mesh08 or check out the mesh08 Tweme. If you come across anything else interesting about mesh please send me a link, or twitter it and use the keyword #mesh08.

meshU goes out with a bang

Well, the first meshU is a wrap — and quite a day it was, from the workshops to the networking in between workshops. We had some great presentations from people like Ryan Carson from, Canada’s own Daniel Burka from and Avi Bryant from, as well as David Crow (from Microsoft) and Leila Boujnane (from Idee) in a tag-team presentation called “How to Demo Like a Demon.” And in between there was some great conversation and meshing of designers, developers and startup types, which continued at The Drake. Many thanks to all who came, to all the presenters, and most of all to MCC Planners and the MaRS Centre for helping us put on such a great show. Now on to mesh 2008, which starts tomorrow morning with a keynote conversation between yours truly and Ethan Kaplan, vice-president of technology for Warner Brothers Records.

mesh keynote update: Matt Mason

For anyone who was looking forward to the mesh keynote by Pirate’s Dilemma author Matt Mason (and that includes all of us on the mesh organizing team) we got some bad news over the weekend. Unfortunately, Matt has run into some visa problems in the United States, and he won’t be able to make it to mesh. While we are disappointed that we couldn’t work things out in time — as is Matt — we do have a top-notch replacement for him as the society keynote: Dr. Michael Geist, the University of Ottawa law professor and copyright expert.

Dr. Geist was originally scheduled to do a presentation Wednesday afternoon about how Facebook and other social media tools are being used for grassroots lobbying and advocacy purposes, building on his experience in setting up a Facebook group opposed to Ottawa’s anticipated copyright legislation. In Matt Mason’s absence, we have asked Dr. Geist to adapt his presentation as the keynote for the society stream, which will take place at 10:40 a.m. on Wednesday. Taking the place of his original presentation Wednesday afternoon will be a panel discussion on “Managing the Mozilla Way” with Mic Berman, John Resig and Mike Shaver, moderated by Michael McDerment.

For more information, please see the mesh schedule.

Is a MicroHooBook in your future?

Sounds like Microsoft is looking at buying just Yahoo’s search business, rather than the whole thing. And John Furrier, ex of Podtech, says that he’s hearing rumours Microsoft may make a two-stage attempt to cure its lack of Web savvy by first acquiring Yahoo’s search business and then bolting on Facebook for $20-billion or so. Scoble says he’s been hearing the same kinds of rumours — and that his fear is Microsoft will try to keep Facebook walled off from the rest of the Internet. I wouldn’t put something like that past the Beast of Redmond, but I think if they do it will ultimately fail.

As Alexander van Elsas points out in his post, people don’t like walled gardens, or at least not for long. If nothing else, America Online proved that. In the early stages of a market the walled garden makes sense, and people are happy to enter into it because it has all kinds of benefits they can’t get elsewhere. Eventually, however, it starts to seem more and more like a Soviet-style “managed economy,” and less like something people might actually want, and they start to move elsewhere.

You can see some of that already happening with the launch of Google’s OpenSocial and Google Connect, and Facebook’s Friend Connect and so on — being open has become a competitive advantage, and even Microsoft has to have realized that by now. In any case, Jason Kaneshiro says there’s an easy response if someone like MicroHooBook tries to keep things walled off: just stop using their products. Meanwhile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg continues to insist that the site plans to remain independent.

Ars Technica snapped up by Conde Nast

On the heels of CBS acquiring CNET for $1.8-billion comes another deal involving “old” media and “new” media: according to TechCrunch, the folks over at Conde Nast — the magazine publishing family that owns Vogue, the New Yorker and Wired — have plunked down about $25-million for Ars Technica, the tech site that recently caused a minor blog storm over an alleged lack of attribution in their blogs posts. Kara Swisher of All Things D has a video interview with site co-founder Ken “Caesar” Fisher.

Although Conde Nast is mostly known for print magazines, it has been making inroads into digital publishing, including the purchase of Wired (for about $25-million) last year, as well as the acquisition of Digg competitor Reddit. Conde also owns and the recently-launched online magazine Portfolio, and has other online assets including and Conde Nast is a unit of Advance Publications, a private company controlled by the Newhouse family that also owns a number of local business journals and U.S. newspapers.

According to FM Publishing’s page on Ars Technica, the site gets about 19 million page views a month (TechCrunch says the site gets 4.5 million uniques a month, according to a source). With a CPM fee of about $36 per ad, that means the site could make as much as $2-million a month in advertising revenue — and it apparently has just eight employees, including co-founders Ken “Caesar” Fisher and Jon “Hannibal” Stokes, who started the site in 1998.


I remembered that Doug McIntyre from 24/7 Wall Street did a financial analysis of some of the leading blogs and their theoretical value awhile back, so I went and looked at it, and here’s what he said:

“Ars Technica: $15 million. High church high tech blog. Sites ranks 2,500 in Alexa. Compete shows over 800,000 visitors. Audience is growing very rapidly. Quancast has reach at 1.1 million. Ads are all premium clients. Site should be getting $40 per page CPM. Page views are probably six million a month. Revenue of almost $3 million. Site appears to have high end edit staff writing. Margin estimated at 35%. High-end site should be very valuable. Fifteen times operating profit.”

Not bad, Doug. Obviously Conde Nast thought it was worth a little more. Ken Fisher’s note to the Ars community is here.

Social networking is like oxygen

Sarah Perez at Read/Write Web (who also blogs at Sarah in Tampa) has a post up about how Generation Y is going to change the Web, and she makes some excellent points. But I would argue that the generation entering the workforce now isn’t just going to change the Web — it’s changing all kinds of things, including some of the ways companies function (or don’t function). I don’t want to be accused of social-media “triumphalism” or Kool-Aid drinking or whatever, but I think that in many ways we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg.

A few of the points that Sarah makes — including “They’re Plugged In,” “Socializing Rules” and “Work Tools Need to Mirror Web Tools” — are the same conclusions that a colleague of mine and I came to while putting together a research report for Don Tapscott’s New Paradigm Group (now part of nGenera), which will be published soon. We looked at the ways in which companies can use social-networking tools to help their employees get more engaged and collaborate with each other more easily, and how that can benefit both the company and the employee.

Many of the companies we looked at as part of our research, including large companies such as Johnson & Johnson (which happens to have a thriving internal wiki), said the same kinds of things that Sarah is writing about: that their younger employees don’t just want social-networking style tools such as instant messaging, Facebook, wikis, blogs and so on — they expect them. In some ways, being connected and sharing links and thoughts and feedback is like oxygen. It’s just part of the environment. And a company that doesn’t have or encourage those tools will be like a company that doesn’t have telephones, or bathrooms. How’s that for Kool-Aid?

At the end of Sarah’s piece, I was pleased to see a presentation called The Gen-Y Guide to Web 2.0 Work by Sacha Chua, who now works at IBM, but has been part of the Toronto DemoCamp and TorCamp scene — as well as helping out at past mesh conferences — for some time now, and is irrepressibly optimistic and engaged. I’ve embedded the presentation here as well. Some excellent advice.